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Thoughts on a 2012 DUFF race

Ulrika O’Brien writes about DUFF’s decision to run a race in 2012.

Guest post by Ulrika O’Brien

I understand a DUFF race for the Australian NatCon has been announced. I concluded that it was too late to run a DUFF race for this year’s ANZAC NatCons back in mid-April when the topic came up on the fan fund administrators’ list. I said as much then. In the intervening two weeks the prospect of equitably and successfully running a race to send a North American to one or both antipodean national conventions has moved from being merely not viable to somewhere between ‘unforgivably foolhardy’ and ‘hyperbole fails me’. Or, as I said in my comment on the race announcement in File 770, golly I think this is an outstandingly bad idea. What follows is a refinement of my comments there.

Nominations in this race are open until midnight, on May 11. That’s just ten days from now. Merely deciding to stand in a fan fund race takes a certain amount of thought and preparation, and that doesn’t begin to address time spent familiarizing oneself with the rules of the fund enough to identify potential nominators, contacting them, getting the right number to agree to nominate, and then getting them to submit their nominations to an administrator. Then there’s the question of writing an effective and engaging candidate platform in only 100 words. There realistically isn’t enough time in just ten days for potential candidates who were not alerted before the public announcement to do all that. Which means that the race is biased against candidates that were not pre-alerted before nominations opened. This opens DUFF up to legitimate complaints of bias. It is deeply unfair to any potential candidate who was not in the circle of those approached before nominations opened. The whole point of the nomination period is to widely and publicly announce that there will be a race so that any eligible fan can reasonably expect to mount a candidacy. An abbreviated nomination period with pre-identified candidates gives the appearance that the DUFF race is not truly open to all eligible fans. Accusations of favoritism are quick to arise in the context of fan funds, and I feel that running a race under these circumstances stands a good chance of damaging DUFF’s reputation for fairness.

Once nominations close the DUFF administrators will need to communicate with each other to compare nominators, validate them, and transfer any other pertinent information received by either — nominations and candidate’s statements can go to either administrator, after all. The thing is, the two current administrators have intermittent communications problems which could easily recur. It’s very possible that there could be some, even considerable, delays getting the ballots written, edited and distributed after nominations close. Even assuming the ballots get out the very next day, May 12, that’s only 19 days before the probable voting deadline of May 31. That’s barely more than two weeks’ voting. Two months is a more normal voting period. The voting period needs to be long enough that candidates can mount a campaign, and long enough that candidates and administrators can promote voting in the race at conventions, in fanzines, and through various social media. Getting people to vote and donate is surprisingly hard work, and without some time to build buzz, chances are good that the race will see few votes cast. Two of the things a fan fund race is supposed to do is raise money for the fund through balloting donations, and to raise awareness of the fund through a rousing public contest, amiably but ardently contested in as many fannish forums as possible. This will do neither.

Assuming that voting closes, as predicted, on May 31, the administrators will again need to get in touch with each other to exchange vote information, validate ballots, and do a joint vote count. I normally allow a full weekend for that process, in order to account for time differences allow time to vet last minute ballots and reach the contestants . So supposing for a moment that the DUFF administrators are still communicating perfectly, we can still reasonably suppose that a winner won’t be announced until June 3. By then, the New Zealand NatCon is over. The Australian one begins in FOUR DAYS. Of which two will need to be spent traveling. Who can realistically imagine booking any trip from North America to Australia in two days, let alone one that involves soliciting crash space with, and transport to, fans in multiple widely spaced cities (as is normal for a DUFF trip)? Even pretending that the ballots are validated and counted instantaneously, and the winner is announced June 1, the amount of planning time left for the winner is well under two weeks, therefore the tickets will be hideously expensive. In other words, a race run in this way will expend the maximum amount of funds to send a winner, while earning the minimum of raised funds during the race.

All this potential damage to the fund in aid of what? A trip to a convention that even the nominations announcement acknowledges the winner may not plausibly attend? Why announce a race to a convention the winner can’t make it to? A fan fund win is supposed to be an honor. Where’s the honor in all the frantic rushing around the candidates and winner would be forced into, especially when the only reason to hold a race now is to finish it before a convention the winner can’t expect to attend anyway?

I say stop the madness now. If the winner of such a DUFF race can’t attend the convention the race is held for, why not defer the race? There is no rule or moral obligation to hold races every year, or for a Natcon, or for that matter, to hold races only once in a year. There are other, better ways to hold this race: choose another ANZAC convention to send the winner to, or hold the race late this year for next year’s Australian and/or New Zealand Natcon, and hold a 2013 race for LoneStarCon, or (worst case) simply defer a year and hold the next southbound race next year and the next northbound one in 2014. If the object of this DUFF race is just to achieve “a reasonable amount of contact, merriment, and satisfaction” then there is absolutely no compelling reason to hold it now. And there is every reason to avoid all the potential frenzy, inconvenience, expense, and public discord that seem so very likely. So let’s not hold it now. Let’s hold it when there is enough time for a fair and equitable nomination period for potential candidates, a solid, high profile campaign for the candidates and the fund, and a sufficient planning period for the winner.

I strongly urge the DUFF administrators to reconsider this present course of action as deeply unwise and potentially very damaging to the fund. I urge them to reschedule the race to allow for a reasonable period of nominations, voting, and planning. If the administrators cannot or will not reschedule, then I strongly urge current and potential candidates to refrain from standing, or withdraw their candidacies, to defer the race de facto by cancelling this one. If the administrators and the candidates persist in this folly, then I strongly suggest that voters who care about the health of DUFF vote Hold Over Funds, without prejudice against any of the candidates, but for the greater good of the fund.